Revisited: Greetings from Saudi Arabia

President Obama faced some difficult choices upon his arrival in Saudi Arabia yesterday for a five-day goodwill tour of the Middle East. During his first meeting with a head of state, he’d be greeted by King Abdullah, the same man he was accused of bowing to when they first met at the G-20 summit in London two months ago. Though White House aides insisted at the time that the president was only stooping to admire the socks of the diminutive autocrat, Obama drew flak from the right for having the nerve to respect a foreign leader.

Now he was going to have to greet the guy again at the Riyadh airport, witnessed by the international press corps, and on National Fist Bump Day no less. (It’s true; look it up if you want. Organizers are calling for all global citizens to put aside their differences on June 3 and show their respect by “knocking knuckles.”)

What should he do? Offer a good ol’ American handshake? Possibly okay if they were in the U.S., but here he is in the nation that safeguards the most sacred sites in Islam. Follow the lead of former President George W. Bush, who strolled hand-in-hand with the monarch when he visited Bush’s Texas ranch? Too Bushian. Go all the way to third base as President Reagan famously did with Abdullah’s predecessor? (In local parlance, this diplomatic miscue became the legendary “full camel toe.”)

The world watched anxiously as the president stepped off Air Force One and there stood the king, resplendent in his blinding white robes. The two leaders shared a light embrace and a cheek-to-cheek touch on both sides, called a “friendly but formal greeting” by The New York Times. They stood for several minutes beneath a gazebo in the scorching desert heat, then shared a cup of tea before heading to the king’s place for dinner.

“This time,” the Times reported, “reporters on hand did not see a bow.”

Looks like the coolest president since James K. Polk once again did the right thing, even though he had a world of choices in how to communicate his greeting. He could’ve done like I do every day when passing an associate at work in the hall, look down and pretend to be checking my cell phone messages and walk right past or, if I’m feeling especially friendly, offer a tight-lipped nod. Or he could’ve selected from the large number of greeting gestures described in Wikipedia.

In addition to bowing and cheek kissing, they also list Eskimo kissing (generally thought to be rubbing noses but actually the smelling of another person’s face), the high-five, hand-kissing, hat-raising or hat-tipping (especially difficult with a crown), hugging, kowtowing (it has a bad reputation but it’s really just kneeling and touching the ground with your forehead, in order to show awe or submission), the Indian-style “namaste,” the standard military salute, waving (probably a tad informal) or the Hitler salute. That last one would probably be going too far to appease the anti-Zionist crowd in the Muslim world.

Hey, how's it goin'? Hey, how’s it goin’? 

Also rejected by the president’s creative staff were body-sniffing, wiping-hands-on-shirt (symbolic of our nation’s desire to rid itself of our love-hate affair with oiliness), brow-wiping and saying “whew” (appropriate for the 120-degree heat), foot-wiping (to get the sand out of your shoes), the bro-hug, the babe-hug (a sideways clutch designed to keep the breasts out of play) and the fake-shake-with-thumb-away (pulling back your outstretched hand at the last moment and giving the “yer out” sign over your shoulder).

After the president’s brief visit in Saudi Arabia, he heads off to Egypt for a major address at Cairo University that will be seen by many as an attempt to reach out and show respect for the Muslim world. Sources said he plans to be as non-controversial as possible, since these are the folks who so freaked out over a lame cartoon. Advance copies of the speech leaked to the press indicate the president will characterize Islam as “a monotheistic religion founded by Mohammad in the seventh century with approximately 1.5 billion current-day adherents worldwide, generally divided into Sunni and Shia factions, who follow the Koran and the Five Pillars of Islam for spiritual guidance.”

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One Response to “Revisited: Greetings from Saudi Arabia”

  1. Stentorphone Says:

    I wonder if the Prez had a moment to inquire of the King as to how the families of the nineteen Saudi 9/11 hijackers are getting along these days.

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